Joyce and I had been snapping at each other for weeks. No reason really, at least not one that was obvious. But after fifteen years together sometimes you just get into these things and you can’t get out until someone explodes.
We weren’t slamming doors or throwing plates, but we were avoiding talking about what was bothering us. So, instead of cuddling in the morning, one of us would get out of bed and start right in.
“If you snored any louder you’d wake the neighbors.”
“Then go sleep in the guest bedroom.”
“Maybe I will.”
“Maybe you should.”
We weren’t exactly acting like adults. Even Rebecca, our six year-old, sensed it. “Why you so mad all the time, Daddy?”
“Just eat your cereal, honey,” I said, glancing at her mother. “I’m not mad at you.” And Joyce banged the pots and pans like a drummer on speed.
“Why’s Mommy making so much noise?”
“Eat your breakfast and stop asking so many questions.”
Our little guy, Justin, at five is smarter than all of us because he has his own sense of priorities. He concentrated on his banana, absolutely fascinated at the way he could reshape the peel to make it look like the fruit was still inside. Every once in a while, he’d look up at his older sister and whisper, “cootie breath,” and return to his banana. Even Rebecca would laugh before kicking him under the table and making him cry.
It went on like this for most of the week. We’d fight and the kids would fight. Home wasn’t fun anymore.
The bickering got so bad I stayed at work and missed supper one night. I promised I’d never do that.
Even early on, long before the children were born, and Joyce and I prided ourselves on an open marriage, I’d meet with someone for an extended lunch, but never after work. Joyce did the same. At dinner, we’d hint about our midday rendezvous without talking about it, and make love to each other at night. That lasted about a year until we both admitted we weren’t really that sophisticated as we both developed just enough jealousy to feel threatened. We decided our marriage was worth more than our libidos.
But this time, almost fifteen years after our open marriage “experiment,” all hell broke loose when I got home after dinner, although I had called.
At first, things seemed downright civil. Joyce was giving Justin a bath. Rebecca showed me the 100 she got on her spelling test and I told her how proud I was. Then Justin came running out of the bathroom, naked and dripping, with his mother running after him with a towel.
“Daddy! Daddy!” I just had to pick him up as wet as he was and make farting sounds on his bare tummy.
“Gross,” Rebecca said.
Joyce informed me of the leftover chicken in the fridge.
After we put the kids to bed, we watched some TV and even talked a little about our day. I told her about the whacko wanting to sue his homeowner’s association because they won’t let him fly all fifty state flags in front of his house and she told me about the discussion she had with Justin over why he shouldn’t stick a wire coat hanger into an electric outlet.
“This nutcase doesn’t have anything but money, so Anthony assigned the new associate to assist him. You know, I told you about her. Ginger, the redhead he’s banging. She can’t do anything but look good—”
“Did you hear a word I said?” I turned and saw Joyce had tightened her lips, a sure sign she was angry.
“Yeah, Justin wants to hotwire the house. I heard you.”
And we were off. Soon we were bickering over who controls the remote and whether NBC news is better than CBS.
We prepared for bed like two Sumo wrestlers before a bout. We were polite as we performed our nighttime rituals in our underwear, but neither of us spoke. I set the alarm clock for 6:30 and rolled to my side.
And we began to argue over whether I had set it for PM or AM.
“I just asked,” Joyce said.
“I’ve been setting the alarm for the past fifteen years. Suddenly I don’t know AM from PM.”
“I don’t know what you know.”
“Then just trust me,” I shouted. “Don’t you trust me?”
And just like that we both realized we weren’t fighting over an alarm clock. Joyce asked me about Ginger and some of the other women Anthony had hired, and if any of the women from the old days ever came back to say hello or have lunch.
“You’re jealous,” I said.
“Duh! Maybe I am.”
“You don’t need to be. I promised a long time ago I’d never do anything to mess up what we have.”
“I know,” she said. “You didn’t come home tonight and I… Shit! It’s me. I have something to tell you.”
I pulled back. “Joyce, are you—”
“Hell, no. Who has the time?”
“Then what is it? What’s wrong with us?”
“The truth is,” she said, “I’m bored. I love the kids, but I miss adult conversation. I’m not even in a book club anymore.” She paused. “I know it’s silly after all this time, but I’m thinking about finishing my Master’s in English once Justin begins school in the fall. Maybe I can still teach, if I’m not too old.”
I held her and kissed her and assured her she didn’t kiss like an old lady.
And then we had fantastic make-up sex.
So fantastic that Rebecca knocked on our door, asking why Mommy was making so much noise. And since I have no self-control I had to say, “Ask Mommy, sweetheart.”
Wayne Scheer has been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Net. He’s published numerous stories, poems and essays in print and online, including Revealing Moments, a collection of flash stories. His short story “Zen and the Art of House Painting” has been made into a short film.